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Bounce Bad Holiday Party Behavior Before It Starts

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A holiday party is a nice way to let your staff know they are appreciated. You want them to relax and cut loose a little. Unfortunately, some individuals seem destined to cross the line of decent behavior, and create problems for themselves and for you. Coworkers get insulted or feel harassed, and occasionally, they end up in court. Many employees in one survey* said they have been reprimanded by the boss, some were fired, and in several companies, future parties were cancelled because of bad employee behavior. There’s no foolproof way to prevent problems, but with some forethought, you may be able to minimize the risk.

Not surprisingly, inappropriate behavior often relates to over-consumption of alcohol. You should know, serving alcohol can put your company in legal jeopardy, especially if the party is held on your premises. If including alcohol is a must, consider these options:

  • Hire a trained bartender to serve alcohol and monitor consumption, or
  • Hold the party at a licensed restaurant. The restaurant becomes the provider of the alcohol, and is responsible for cutting people off when necessary.

Note: These options do not eliminate your legal liability but they do offer some protection. It’s a good idea to check with your insurer to find out what your policy permits.

Other Ideas
Invite spouses. It’s good for morale, and may keep flirtatious or contentious behavior in check.

Daytime party. Forget the after-hours party, and consider providing a meal during work hours, like a 90-minute lunch. This is more likely to feel like a reward and less like an obligation, and since it is held during the workday, employees are more inclined to conduct themselves as they normally do at work.

Should you warn your staff about behavior issues?

Not necessarily. Jim Collison is the president of Employers of America and author of The Complete Employee Handbook Made Easy as well as a valuable employer coach. He advises that, regardless of when and where the party is held, your standards of expected behavior should already be in your employee handbook, and enforced throughout the year. “I wouldn’t rub the employees’ noses in a behavior/discipline policy just before a party.” Instead, give them a gentle reminder. If it takes more than that, said Collison, it’s an indication you’ve hired the wrong people.

He recalls one Halloween party where a simple comment became an unforeseen legal battle. It was a daytime party, which included an optional costume contest for employees, and no alcohol was served. When one woman showed up dressed in witch-like attire, a male coworker told her, “You look like a witch!” That little comment resulted in a sexual harassment lawsuit that cost Collison’s firm $10,000 in legal fees. Chances are… the real problem was not the words, but the coworker’s tone when he said it.

The moral of that story is, regardless of the precautions you take, problems will arise. You cannot eliminate all risk, said Collison, but common sense and forethought can minimize trouble.

*Survey by Adecco, an HR solutions firm.

Teresa Ambord

Posted In: Management

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